Entrepreneur of the Month

Mary Grogan

Entrepreneur of the Month: March

MARY GROGAN: Soprano, Clinician, & General Director of OperaMaya

This month, Project Jumpstart interviews Jacobs alumna, Mary Grogan. Soprano Mary Grogan is a passionate advocate for the arts, the founder and general director of the OperaMaya Foundation, a sought after vocal clinician, speaker, teacher, and performer.

She is best known for her work with the government and private sector of México to promote and enrich the musical culture throughout the Yucatán Peninsula while developing cultural tourism strategies. Her international portfolio career makes her a pioneer in the field of musical entrepreneurship and the growing musical marketplace of Latin America. She divides her time between the Yucatán Peninsula of México and the United States.

OperaMaya has the mission to create world-renowned artistic expressions that exemplify both the historical and modern Maya Culture. It hosts several events throughout the year including “The OperaMaya International Music Festival”, a cultural exchange of international artists. The festival features guest conductors, a vocal Young Artist Training Program (YAP), Apprentice and Choral Programs, Collaborative Piano Program, Festival Orchestra, Brass, Wind and String Ensembles, along with special guest performances.

OperaMaya also includes “The Young Artist Development and Career Advancement Group” which provides career counseling and workshops for the aspiring musical entrepreneur, focused on professional skill development in the emerging Latin American job sector.

"Knock on a bunch of doors and see what opens. Stay open and receptive and when there is a closed door focus your energy elsewhere. A closed door can be just as helpful as an open door because it means look somewhere else!" - Mary Grogan

Grogan Video

The promotional video for OperaMaya

Project Jumpstart: How have your skills as a performer and teacher helped you become the general director of OperaMaya? What skills did you realize that you needed to learn in order to take on the task of starting up a major program like this?

Mary Grogan: After I graduated I didn’t want to move to New York and audition like everyone else, so I packed up my car and I moved south. I moved to Mexico and I had a gig lined up in Merida. I got my certification and taught K-12 music while I performed at night. I learned jazz so I could survive because that is how I could supplement my career. I was able to gig in the industry and I was happy because I was able to work in music and teach simultaneously. When you teach in Mexico you have to be able to teach more than just your subject, so as a music teacher I had to learn about production and lighting. I ended up being the theatre, dance, and cheerleading teacher while I was there. I learned how to adjust and adapt while living there and this allowed me to be flexible as I got older. After making a life for myself in Mexico I realized I needed to be performing opera again so I moved back to the states and that is when I got the idea for OperaMaya. As a performer, I know what a singer needs in a young artist program and as a teacher I know what opportunities we want our students to have. Those experiences allowed me to uniquely be able to develop this program.


Photo from a performance at OperaMaya festival

PJ: OperaMaya encompasses a variety of programs and projects. Can you talk about the development of that mission and how it came to be?

MG: Around 2009 the global economy crashed and I moved back home to the United States. I realized I needed to sing opera because I spent my whole life training for it. It was then that everything clicked and OperaMaya started to manifest. I was talking with a friend that was an IU alumnus and we were trying to figure out a way to start our own young artist program. I picked up the phone and contacted my mentors from school. I called my pedagogy teacher from IU and Mark Clark who was in charge of the opera theatre and I asked them to teach. I just talked to people I knew and trusted and asked them to help me create this. I then went to the state orchestra and told them I have these great singers that will be on my faculty and I convinced them to be our resident orchestra. That was going to be our niche- singers will get the opportunity to perform with orchestra and use our program as a training ground. We audition singers and figure out our repertoire based on the right literature that would fit the singers we pick. In my first year we had seven singers and worked with the state orchestra. We toured with our musicians in Mexico and that is how it started and every year it grew! At the heart of all of it I wanted to have artistic integrity with our entire program and I wanted it to be everything I stand for. It seems crazy now but I had to make this work and made it my mission to get my own orchestra, teachers, performers and conductors. Our mix of cultures and experiences is what sets us apart. I am never satisfied and I am constantly trying to see how I can make this program grow. It went from a summer festival to a program that now incorporates a full year concert series so that there is music being made all year round. We are bringing opera singers and an orchestra into cities that have never heard this type of music. This is an art that these people did not think belonged to them and now they are feeling included in the classical world. 


Promotional Poster for the OperaMayaperformance at the Gran Museo Del Maya

PJ: A lot of your work as a professional deals with shaping the future artists of the world and effecting communities at large. Has this always been an area of importance to you and does this translate into your work with OperaMaya?

MG: Relationships are at the heart of everything we do. After living in Mexico for six years I had developed deep connections with people in the city. I wanted to do something that was real and connected to the community in Mexico where our program is based. I didn’t want to be like other young artist programs that come for the summer, pack up, and leave. early on we started a competition for composers to write pieces in Mayan so the people would have something that they could feel connected to. There are over 700 Mayan languages and I discovered that in this particular region, they are an underrepresented people. I wanted to be able to give their languages and culture a voice and I thought that through this competition we could create art that could change this perception. I wanted to make sure that we performed these works and got them out to be performed independently from our program so the music would live beyond just our performance of it. Our motives are about being a part of the community. When you get to know what is going on with the people in your community, they will want to help in turn. These people deserve that and when the Mayan people see musicians coming from all over the world to perform and learn their language it is overwhelming for them. I have made it a goal to have a full opera, whether it is a one act or more, to be performed in Mayan at our program.


Promotional poster for Papaya Playa Project

PJ: OperaMaya has already accomplished so much. How do you see it developing in the future?

MG: OperaMaya has allowed us to bring classic music to people that wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience it and I want to continue this work. At the end of the day if we could be remembered for something it would be that we believe in music and we believe in the people. I don’t have a degree in entrepreneurship and the first time someone called me an entrepreneur I thought they were crazy. I knew that I was a soprano and that I believed in music. I want this program to grow in the way it is organically supposed to. I want to focus on the new baby for OperaMaya, the choral program that we are debuting this year and nurture it over the coming years.

PJ: What do you recommend music students take advantage of before graduating from their studies? What skills do you find are crucial in being a successful professional in the arts?

MG: If I were to go back to school it would be to learn the business side of things. I wish I learned how to hire people and build a budget. We are trained here at IU to have the best of the best. We were able to sing on one of the biggest opera stages and study with amazing faculty but what can you accomplish with finite resources? It is important to be able to think outside the box to create music and art with limited resources. You have to be able to build community and relationships. I have people that I completely trust and together we have fleshed out our program. Without those relationships that I had forged, OperaMaya wouldn’t be what it is. Make friendships with musicians that you care about. As a startup with no corporate money we didn’t have a lot of expendible funds, so when I had performing gigs in the U.S. I would piggyback that with auditions for OperaMaya. As a teacher, speaker and master class clinician I was able to combine those aspects of my life together when I traveled. Find a way to layer your skills and assets. You can no longer just go to school to train your voice; you have to be good at that on top of other things. Most people are not just performers today. You need to be able to supplement that. Knock on a bunch of doors and see what opens. Stay open and receptive and when there is a closed door focus your energy elsewhere. A closed door can be just as helpful as an open door because it means look somewhere else!


Project Jumpstart partners with the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the IU Kelley School of Business.